The Week that Was: My friend Dina called mid-way through the week. I told her, “Remember how I didn’t feel the earthquake in August? Well, I felt this one.”
And we’re still feeling it. The victims, stripped of innocence, will feel it for a lifetime.
But my mom and I were luckier than most. Earlier I signed up for two classes that gave us a break from the headlines and filled a few hours with new ideas.
Diversion is a good thing. Especially when trusty old NPR invades my Scion space with the Scandal in Happy Valley. Skype with Marina in Brussels and she tells me she read about IT on Al Jazeera. Get a call from Richard explaining he was just “exercising his First Amendment rights” on Beaver Avenue. And the CDT (aka The Seedy-T), where I was a reporter in the 1980s, has cover-to-cover coverage of The Story.
Cooking with Seasonal Local Vegetables, Gujarati Style, was a godsend. Within minutes, crowded around a kitchen workspace, we were taking in the fragrances of the state of Gujaret in western India. Sunil, our instructor, is also a farm manager for a local CSA. On the day’s luncheon menu was Green Chutney, Root Cutlets, Dal with Winter Squash, Kuchumbar (raw veggie salad), Methi Egg Curry, Greens, Riata (shredded veggies mixed with green chilies and cilantro in a yogurt base), and rice studded with cumin browned in ghee. Sunil manned two stove tops, boiling pots, frying pans, cutting boards, a palette of spices, and questions coming from a dozen on-lookers without as much as a raised eyebrow. I was in awe. After that performance, succession planting and the vagaries of Mother Nature must seem like a vacation.
It was my first venture into the realm of Indian cooking, and Sunil gave us a lot of tips and information on an array of new-to-me spices, all passed on to him by his mother, a native of Gujaret. Incorporating some of his techniques and trying even one or two new spices will add a complexity of flavors and excitement to our fall standards of butternut squash, turnips, parsnips, and sweet potatoes (white-fleshed only if you want to authenticate Indian dishes).
I’ll share a taste of the class with all of you, as well as I am technologically able. (I’m waiting for Skype to come up with a system of transporting meals and hugs through the interspace.)
- Whole spices such as cumin, mustard seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and fenugreek seeds are used as aromatics. Either dry toast them or fry in hot oil to release the aromas.
- Know the ratios of ground spices rather than amounts, Sunil suggests. You might just use a dash of asafetida and tumeric, a teaspoon of chili powder or garam masala (a combo of peppercorns, cloves, black cumin seeds, nutmeg, star anise, coriander, cardamom, and malabar leaves), and two heaping teaspoons of ground roasted coriander or ground roasted cumin
- Sweet and Sour are the two flavor components to think about in Indian cooking. A little sweetness is typically added to dishes to balance out spicy or sour flavors. If a sour flavor is added, always use a sweet. Lemon juice, dried mango powder, kokum or tamarind are used for sour flavor; sugar, brown sugar, and jaggery (a raw sugar) are used for the sweet
- The triad of ginger, garlic and green chilies (ratio of 1:1:1) adds great flavors to dishes. Process and use as a paste.
- Indian cooks add cilantro to almost every dish. Sunil uses the leaves and stems, as long as they aren’t woody, by the handful.
Here is one of the easiest recipes to tempt you into the Indian kitchen. Although Kuchumbar is typically made with raw onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, Sunil adapted it to fall vegetables.
Chop turnips, radishes and beets into ¼-inch cubes or strips. Add roasted cumin, salt, sugar, lemon, and chili powder (trial and error on the amounts). Massage (yes, with your clean bare hands) the entire mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For our Organic Beekeeping class, I worried about my mother repeating what she said to me when I told her we were signed up, “Oh yuck, bzzzzz bzzzz.” Thank goodness she behaved … especially when she found out honey-tasting was on the syllabus. We listened to two beekeepers discuss packages and nucs, queen bees, worker bees and drones, supers and bottom boards, and yes, tasted honey (my favorite, a dark knotweed honey). As we neared the end of the session, Sylvia explained the hive hierarchy, and how10,000 bees work together as one organism. The queen reigns but she doesn’t rule. “The hive is like the Board of Trustees,” Sylvia quipped. “The hive decides.” So much for escaping the buzz. Have a sweet time, Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “We Queens try to include items from all four major food groups – sweet, salty, fried, and au gratin. Balance is very important to us.”
— The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love